Countering hate speech with social responsibility

Geert Wilders is on trial in Holland. He is accused of violating Articles 137(c) and (d) of the Dutch criminal … Continued

Geert Wilders is on trial in Holland. He is accused of violating Articles 137(c) and (d) of the Dutch criminal code for group insult of Muslims, inciting hatred of and discrimination against Muslims due to their religion, and fomenting hatred of non-Western immigrants. These allegations are based on numerous public statements as well as his film, Fitna, which juxtaposes Qur’anic verses with images of acts of violence and/or hatred by Muslims.

Surrounding Wilders’ trial is a debate that has been raging for a long time–a debate about the role and relevance of broad free speech rights and possible limits on this fundamental human right. For Wilders’ opponents, the red line is best drawn at the point speech becomes deeply offensive, whereas free speech advocates working with the American jurisprudential model draw that line at the point speech becomes a direct incitement to imminent violence.

Of course, as many commentators have pointed out, there are serious problems with Wilders’ self-representation as the champion of free speech. He has, for example, publicly stated that the Qur’an should be banned in his country. Despite Wilders’ complete incompetence as a champion of free speech, the fact remains that he his still protected by free speech principles. As much as his denigration of Islam and its Prophet – my Prophet – disturbs and offends me profoundly, protecting Wilders’ right to spew hateful speech is the only way to get past the hatred to a better place. For one, legitimizing a ban on Wilders’ speech puts us on a slippery slope to legitimizing further, far worse limitations. It sets up a legal landscape where Wilders’ ludicrous desire to ban the Qur’an might find an avenue for realization.

But perhaps worse than banning books is halting dialogue–conciliatory speech that allows us to share commonalities, build bridges, and develop society beyond its current prejudices. To defeat “bad” speech, we need more “good” speech; to overcome polarizing speech, we need unifying speech. In the end, the solution is always more, not less, speech.

And yet the discussion cannot simply end there. While legal sanctions on non-violent speech are reprehensible because they give the state undue control over its citizens’ expression, some attention must be given to the sociological problem of the ways speech is used and manipulated. We have to move past the question of legalities and consider the role of speech in our collective social responsibility; we need to formulate social–not legal–solutions to speech that aims to divide. After all, imposing legal restrictions simply takes the burden off individuals to moderate themselves.

Consider, for example, the Dalia Mogahed and John Esposito assertion, based on a worldwide survey, that there is support for free speech among strong majorities of Muslims, and that these Muslims’ concerns about Wilders’ film were not about the free speech principle in the abstract, but rather the ways this liberty is used to foment an environment of unreasoned hostility toward minorities. As Mogahed and Esposito explain in Free Speech and Muslims in Europe, Muslims around the world viewed Wilders’ film as “akin to using the ‘n-word,’ spewed from a position of power against a marginalized underclass — an expression of prejudice — not principle.”

This view is entirely justified. Judging from Wilders’ actions and words, steeped as they are in racial and religious bigotry, there is no doubt that, for him, free speech is nothing more than freedom to insult Muslims. His battle for human rights, which he insists are based on Judeo-Christian values with no contribution from Islam, requires that for Muslims to be tolerated in Europe, they must let go of their Islam.

Judging from polls, his message is resonating with a sizable segment in his country, and his trial will likely have the unfortunate effect of further popularizing him. He has the ability to harness the forces of hatred and to undo the foundations of humanitarianism, despite, of course, professing to uphold human rights.

To defeat such a trend, it is essential to focus on free speech as a problem-solver–a unifier, not divider. Free speech is a human right and thus by definition universal and inalienable and not to be limited by relevance to a specific time, place, or culture. It is precisely this universality that makes it the solution to time- and place-bound taboos, stigmas, and prejudices, since the best way to resolve these prejudices is with more speech; speech employed to educate, demand civil rights, or express through art our shared humanity.

And thus is the critical lesson to be learned from Wilders’ trial–to recognize the rights and responsibilities of free speech. We need to not only strenuously defend our right to free expression, but also exercise our duty to use that right to protect the rights of others. While Wilders’ speech may be legally permissible, it need not and should not be socially welcomed.

  • WmarkW

    “As Mogahed and Esposito explain in Free Speech and Muslims in Europe, Muslims around the world viewed Wilders’ film as “akin to using the ‘n-word,’ spewed from a position of power against a marginalized underclass — an expression of prejudice — not principle.”The difference is that the N-word doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a way of saying “because you’re a person of African ethnicity, I consider you less of a human being than someone of European (or possibly some other) ancestry.”Fitna takes ACTUAL ACTIONS BY MUSLIMS and counterposes them with ACTUAL SCRIPTURE FROM THEIR HOLY BOOK justifying those same actions the way the Muslims who perpetrated the events actually did.It’s not hate speech if one can draw a line from beliefs to actions.

  • PSolus

    “I have stated before that I have met God and that God is a Trinity.”Indeed you have.”I have also stated before that I have read and heard that the god of islam gets mightily perturbed if someone says that God is a Trinity.”I don’t remember reading this, but I’ll take your word for it.”Therefore, I have stated that the god of islam is satan for the simple fact that satan is a master at deception, a liar and a thief is what God-Incarnate referred to satan as.”That just makes you look even more like a nut job.”satan has even spoken “highly” of Jesus and claimed Jesus as one of his prophets but satan also most definitely get very upset if anyone refers to Jesus as God-Incarnate, which Jesus Is.”OK, even nuttier.”satan’s deceptions concerning Jesus will backfire on him and already have in that there are Muslims that are better “followers” of Jesus even tho they do not believe that Jesus is God-Incarnate than some of those that believe that Jesus is God-Incarnate.”You kind of lost me there.”I have also said that I do not hold it against Muhammed that he was deceived.”Good for you.”I have also stated many times that: God is a searcher of hearts and minds, not of religious affiliations or lack thereof and It is important what one does and why one does it and what one knows.”You lost me again.”God looks at the person, not the “label”.”OK…”God has a Plan and has had a Plan since before creation and God’s Plan is for ALL to be in God’s Kingdom, the new heavens and the new earth.”So, how’s that plan going so far?”The seventh day will arrive but the night of the sixth day will precede it.”Is it safe to extrapolate that the night of the fifth day will precede the sixth day?”Speech is not hate speech just because someone else considers it hate speech,…”This is the first intelligent thing that you have ever written.”…God-Incarnate was accused of “blasphemy”, was He not?”Well, so much for intelligence.”Even if someone does not consider Jesus, God-Incarnate, Jesus was accused of “blasphemy” and some may put this in the “hate” category.”As apposed to the “crazy” category?”Take care, be ready.”Don’t worry, be happy.”Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.”Insincerely, Peregrine Bartleby Rumpelstiltskin Solus

  • rentianxiang

    I share Uddin’s concerns that banning “offensive” speech, such as some categorize that of Wilders, can be a slippery slope that could eventually lead to the banning of books such as the Quran, which many non-Muslims could legitimately argue is offensive and threatening to them. Certainly the portrayal of Christians, Jews (especially), polytheists and non-believers in general is very offensive to anyone belonging to the aforementioned groups. I answered the call of Muslims to read the Quran and rid myself of ignorance regarding Islam and I can only say that I found the Quran to be extremely offensive and hateful towards me. If Wilders has his speech banned, it actually should lead to the banning of hate-filled books such as the Quran that are offensive to groups other than Muslims. I, for one, agree with Uddin’s assertion that “bad” speech should be countered not by banning the speech but, rather, through the superior arguments of “good” speech. It is for this reason that I would insist that the actual words of the Quran never be banned to ensure that we know what is really expressed in that book. Likewise, it is probably far better for Muslims if people like Wilders can express their opinions openly to better enable Muslims to respond to their critics either through argument or re-examining their ideology to seek improvement.

  • Alex511

    fr thomasbaum:>…Therefore, I have stated that the god of islam is satan for the simple fact that satan is a master at deception, a liar and a thief is what God-Incarnate referred to satan as….Your “statement” is completely incorrect. Allah is the Muslim name for God.

  • abhab1

    Uddin pontificates thus:“We need to not only strenuously defend our right to free expression, but also exercise our duty to use that right to protect the rights of others.”In the Muslim societies that I am familiar with, the freedom of expression is a one way street; the Muslim majority broadcasts its opinions of the non-Muslims whether by picture, print or by shouting it over minaret loudspeakers. No tolerance whatsoever for the other point of view. Up till very recently the penalty for “Insulting the prophet” by a non-Muslim is met with pouring molten lead down the mouth of the suspect. Those societies get their clues on how to treat the other from the Quran, Hadith and actions of Mohammad and his successors. The Omar Pact which is supposedly written by the second succesor of Mohammad , Omar, had institutionalized the treatment of Christians and Jews living among majority Muslims.

  • ThomasBaum

    I have stated before that I have met God and that God is a Trinity.I have also stated before that I have read and heard that the god of islam gets mightily perturbed if someone says that God is a Trinity.Therefore, I have stated that the god of islam is satan for the simple fact that satan is a master at deception, a liar and a thief is what God-Incarnate referred to satan as.satan has even spoken “highly” of Jesus and claimed Jesus as one of his prophets but satan also most definitely get very upset if anyone refers to Jesus as God-Incarnate, which Jesus Is.satan’s deceptions concerning Jesus will backfire on him and already have in that there are Muslims that are better “followers” of Jesus even tho they do not believe that Jesus is God-Incarnate than some of those that believe that Jesus is God-Incarnate.I have also said that I do not hold it against Muhammed that he was deceived.I have also stated many times that: God is a searcher of hearts and minds, not of religious affiliations or lack thereof and It is important what one does and why one does it and what one knows.God looks at the person, not the “label”.God has a Plan and has had a Plan since before creation and God’s Plan is for ALL to be in God’s Kingdom, the new heavens and the new earth.The seventh day will arrive but the night of the sixth day will precede it.Speech is not hate speech just because someone else considers it hate speech, God-Incarnate was accused of “blasphemy”, was He not?Even if someone does not consider Jesus, God-Incarnate, Jesus was accused of “blasphemy” and some may put this in the “hate” category.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • PSolus

    “I wrote, “Even if someone does not consider Jesus, God-Incarnate, Jesus was accused of “blasphemy” and some may put this in the “hate” category.”"Indeed you did.”You replied, “As apposed to the “crazy” category?”"Indeed I did.”Jesus was put in the “crazy” category, it is written very clearly.”Is that so?”Seeing as you wrote concerning me, “That just makes you look even more like a nut job.”, this puts me in, what I consider, Good Company, thank you.”You must be proud. Oops, isn’t that one your imaginary god’s cardinal sins? You’re a bad boy.”See you and the rest of humanity in the Kingdom.”That’s hardly likely, but I do hope to see you and your imaginary magical three-in-one god at Mom’s Grill and Diner for some pancakes and sausage.”Take care, be ready.”Don’t worry, be happy.”Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.”Insincerely, Peregrine Bartleby Rumpelstiltskin Solus

  • saadiabchaudhry

    While I appreciate the example of what is considered deliberate and extreme anti-Islam speech (rather than social critique?), I will challenge the social solution provided. It was suggested that the idea is not to legally ban free speech, even though its hateful, but to defeat “bad” speech with “good” speech. In general I agree with this because its what I’ve been doing.The criteria for good speech that was given is one that seeks to unify and not divide, and one that doesn’t seek to foment hostility against minorities. Why were these chosen as the criteria? From a social perspective, why not speech that deeply upsets someone repeatedly? For example, the Quran itself asked people not to call out to Prophet Muhammad from outside his apartment but wait for him – because it annoyed him. It also discourages sarcasm when it becomes hurtful speech.Imam Zaid Shakir once said that the truth sometimes divides people. When you tell the truth and it divides, for example, by objecting to a policy that could result in lives destroyed or which can be harmful to the nation’s interest ultimately, is that considered socially unacceptable? Is it the risk of telling truth to Power? Should the truth be protected if that in fact leads to social responsibility? If it an issue of using discretion about sensitive issues that could embarass people, it would 1) require a mechanism for communicating things privately and 2) apply to all of us and 3)involve a trade off of waiting for that mechanism vs. addressing an impending problem that could be quite serious.Secondly, you mention that Wilder’s speech was having an effect (based on polls rather than perception). This seems more deliberate than social critique that is used in attempt to remove harm from one’s self or others, to resist indignities(an extreme case in a Muslim country would be in Bashir’s Darfur), to debate a point, or to ask that an issue be resolved. The nuance is how it may impact someone’s view of Islam, even if the actions criticized are not representative of the religion. In some cases, people wanting to defend the religion don’t always address the problem. All of these factors have to be thought about when thinking about social responsibility – because in fact more than one person or group’s interests are involved.Finally, at the end, you say “While Wilders’ speech may be legally permissible, it need not and should not be socially welcomed.” It would seem that a dialogue would actually be the first course of action to influence deliberate anti-Islam thought and speech. So in fact, I feel that if it is legally protected, there should be an attempt at social dialogue.

  • Arif2

    Enough proof exists that there is no Free speech in Islam. Are any of the following questions possible in an open forum in an Islamic country?1. Was Mohammed a pedophile?

  • ThomasBaum

    PSolus I wrote, “Even if someone does not consider Jesus, God-Incarnate, Jesus was accused of “blasphemy” and some may put this in the “hate” category.”You replied, “As apposed to the “crazy” category?”Jesus was put in the “crazy” category, it is written very clearly.Seeing as you wrote concerning me, “That just makes you look even more like a nut job.”, this puts me in, what I consider, Good Company, thank you.See you and the rest of humanity in the Kingdom.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • ThomasBaum

    Alex511I wrote, “Therefore, I have stated that the god of islam is satan for the simple fact that satan is a master at deception, a liar and a thief is what God-Incarnate referred to satan as”You wrote, “Your “statement” is completely incorrect. Allah is the Muslim name for God.”I did not say “Allah”, I said the god of islam.Actually, Allah is the Arabic, I believe, word for God.Both Christians and Muslims use the term, Allah, in referring to God.Allah is the equivalent of the generic English equivalent, God.Yahweh or Yhwh is the Jewish term for the Self-designation that “God” said to Moses when Moses asked something to the effect, “Who do I say sent me?”What I am saying is that God spoken of in the Tanakh and Bible is One and the same whereas god spoken of in the Quran is not.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • abhab1

    Uddin explains:If Islam wishes to be part of Europe and could not be reconciled with human rights, who do you think should go?

  • river333

    Way too many people hear have gotten away with comments completely devoid of historical merit. how can you claim that Islam is the most backward and intolerant religion of all time when Jews who fled to the Muslim world to escape the violent intolerance of Christians were welcomed? We can agree that AT THIS POINT IN TIME, yes, Muslims are among the most intolerant, but to ignore the history of Muslim tolerance is downright idiotic. It wouldn’t make sense to call Christianity the most backward religion of all time just because of the Inquisition…people so easily forget history because they haven’t lived through it. What we should be doing is emphasizing that the intolerance of Muslims today is not grounded in Islam (and we should deal with those verses that advocate violence against non-Muslim, oh wait, Muslim scholars are already doing that). We should READ HISTORY and remind Muslims of the tolerance Islam requires of them, much better expressed by their ancestors than by today’s Muslims. For God’s sake, people who make such myopic comments and ignore history should go back to first grade.

  • Indian51

    River333, here’s little history lesson for you:

  • Indian51

    The western countries are the most tolerant and liberal in the world, and now they are tired of Islamic extremism. If you are so concerned about hate speech, try to ban Koran, which is full of hate speech against non-Muslims and infidels. Non-Muslims are killed and harassed and their places of worship are burned every day in Islamic countries. Do you have any concern for them. If you have, you should try to convince the Saudis, Iranians and other intolerant Islamic countries that they must change their 7th Century mentality. If you are afraid of your life, don’t go there. At least, write to the leaders or to the newspapers or to the imams or mullahs in Islamic countries. Islam is the most despised, backward, illiterate, primitive and violent religion in the world. Start a reformation or something like that to change it so that people can live in peace. BTW, don’t quote John Esposito who is a world-class opportunist who took $20 million from a Saudi prince to promote Islamic culture in the US.

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